Gender discrimination continues to be an
enormous problem within Indian society. Traditional patriarchal norms have
relegated women to secondary status within the household and workplace.
This drastically affects women’s health, financial status, education, and
political involvement. Women are commonly married young, quickly become
mothers, and are then burdened by stringent domestic and financial
responsibilities. They are frequently malnourished since women typically
are the last member of a household to eat and the last to receive medical
attention. Additionally, only 54 percent of Indian women are literate as
compared to 76 percent of men. Women receive little schooling and also
suffer from unfair and biased inheritance and divorce laws. These laws
prevent women from accumulating substantial financial assets, making it
difficult for women to establish their own security and autonomy.
In Rajasthan, all of these problems are
aggravated by high levels of seasonal migration. For many men in
Rajasthan, migration is required since rural parts of Rajasthan often lack
a sufficient economy to provide income for a family year-round. Women are
commonly left behind to care and provide for the entire household. This is
increasingly difficult because it is estimated that an average woman’s
wage is 30 percent lower than a man working in a similar position. While
these mothers work, they must also tend to domestic responsibilities. This
formula for supporting Rajasthani families leaves little resource for the
growth and development of women’s rights and education levels.
A strong “son preference” exists in the
region, as it does throughout the country, and high rates of female
infanticide and female feticide plague the area. In 2001, for every 1,000
males living in Rajasthan there were only 922 women.
Having sons is economically advantageous to families due to cultural
institutions – these institutions serve to drastically devalue the roles
women play in the traditional society. Women continue to struggle to
achieve equal status to men, making women’s empowerment an issue of
particular importance for Rajasthan.
In Rajasthan several NGOs, that have
hosted FSD interns, are instrumental in providing opportunities for women.
These organizations help to build networks among women to create financial
self-help groups. They introduce ideas about microfinance, allowing women
to participate in management activities. Other local NGOs implement
projects that export the skills of women abroad to generate significant
income. In 2006, Olen Crane, an FSD intern, helped nearly 400 women
artisans in the Udaipur area by collecting samples of their textile
products and shipped them abroad to sell to American companies. Similar
projects have enormous potential to improve the financial and social
status of Rajasthani women. Organizing change at a local level and
planning participatory action will help to eliminate bias and stereotypes,
and generate awareness of the significant gender divide that exists within